20 Years of DAM and Production Workflows

Here we are, celebrating our 20th anniversary! 20 years ago, 23rd June 2003, saw the creation of Papermule, not so much out of necessity but more of controlling our own destiny. It had been a few weeks coming, but on that day a smartly dressed lady from Deloitte’s arrived in the small Diss office of Engage Inc to let us know they’d been appointed as the administrators to wind up the European division; we were all being let go and that June’s salary wasn’t going to be forthcoming. A bitter-sweet point in time which marked a contractual release for some 30 staff and an opportunity to take control of our own future.

Life before Papermule had been a rollercoaster, characterised by a series of company mergers, acquisitions, and the constant pursuit of an IPO driven by investor demands. Xenotron, Hyphen, Cascade Systems, Mediabridge Technologies, Engage Inc all in the space of 15 years! Our desire was to achieve a better work-life balance, shape our own future, and secure long-term and less stressful employment. Out of the thirty or so staff members at Engage, six of us joined forces. We didn't have a grand plan or substantial financial resources, but we were determined to make a difference. Two technical support professionals (myself & Miles Harrison ) and four development engineers (Adam Lelean, Paul Womack, Phill Darrall, and Alan Moore) made the team with a simple plan to support the EU customer base while creating a replacement product from scratch.

The first 6 months… With the European division of Engage Inc closed, support for their broad EU customer base was moved to the USA. Time zones, regional knowledge, knowhow along with a sudden overload on an already stretched US support team now lacking their UK dev support provided the ideal and legally unhindered opportunity to fill a void, provide better improved support and generate an initial income thread to fund new product development. Our endeavour was self-funded, with limited resources, an opaque horizon and extremely tight budget we set up shop in Bugbears (Paul’s) garden room. It was messy – some customers arguing their contracts with the US for the defunct EU subsidiary, some contracting old colleagues for short term support cover, others, rightly so having just paid out a full year’s support contract left fuming that we were asking for more…. Our proposition was simple: Monthly support. If we’re no good, cancel on 30 days’ notice but in the meantime you're helping fund a new solution that we’ll be able to migrate you to.

As the waters cleared we slowly emerged as the de facto option, it took 2 or 3 long months of ‘bits and bobs’ before eventually The Daily Mail became our first paying customer, a copy of that first cheque still adorns the wall here, others followed as did services work.

Helen joined us to manage our accounts, somehow she managed negotiate a 4 day working week with her existing employer and find a morning a week for us. I can’t imagine not having someone so capable or organised to simply take it all on. Vat, tax, year end and payroll have never been a worry and we can’t thank her enough!

Andy Melville, colleague and sales rep extraordinaire, and sadly missed, had moved to Sun Microsystems and sold a huge hardware refresh to Express Newspapers, with no one to pick up the services work, helped guide us through our first commercial negotiations and land a substantial first project. Since we’d secured income we found local office space that helped legitimised our existence! Other customers joined our supported customer list: Fine Print, Irish Independent, De TIJD, Future Publishing, Yellow Pages, NewsQuest Southern, Littlewoods, Office Depot, Thomson Directories, National Magazines, Dagens Nyheter, Swedish yellow pages and these formed the foundations to fund a new product. A few months after taking up an office HMRC came calling... Apparently, we’d set off alarm bells as a start-up with no financing, overdraft, products or history that was suddenly making more than expected and possibly money laundering! Their ‘inspection’ was thankfully brief, long enough for a coffee and chat, satisfied we were legit they were on their way.

'A year, 18 moths at most' the dev guys said, …. NewsTech 2005, almost 2 years on, saw us launch ‘Muletrain V1’. Our long awaited and rather purple DAM platform, 'Integrate, Automate, Control, Report' were the headings on the booth, (those boards now adorn a wall of the dev department!) and although we’re a million miles from there, the core principles and approach hold true with a version 4 release, introducing an entirely new UI being testament to that.

Dan Bakewell, MD at Fineprint, was our first customer to take the leap of faith to migrate from Engage’s Dataflow to our ‘Muletrain V1’ and remains with us today. It was probably 1998 when I remember installing his Dataflow system in their riverside residence in central Oxford, their journey and growth since then has been inspirational! Joe O’Keeffe of the Irish Independent was our next migration and first ‘large scale’ implementation: Sun, Sybase, a new data centre in a new call centre and centralising production into Armagh, Northern Ireland. A huge thanks to Dan and Joe, without your support and faith in us to take an early product release we’d probably never have gotten off the ground.

With Irish Independent blazing a trail, we set about a mix of migrations and new customers while saying farewell to others – Thomson Directory’s, Yellow pages etc fell by the way side, a few others decided we weren’t mature enough while a few thought our innovation and solutions suited their needs: Irish News, IPC, Time Inc, NewsUK, Bauer, The Telegraph, Lymington Times, Dennis Publishing, Weatherbys and Autovia, to name a few joined the fold and helped shape Muletrain into what customers know today as AdDesk, EdDesk or simply ‘Papermule’. Complementing our own dev we signed up with Adobe and became a certified development partner, became a reseller for Adobe, MediaPlanner, Helios, Callas and contributed to a number of open source projects who’s tech we’d adopted. Seamlessly integrating some of these leading solutions has meant customers get the most streamlined and automated workflows possible benefitting productivity as well as user and customer satisfaction.

These past two decades have been an incredible journey of growth, adaptation, and acquiring a diverse range of valuable skills. From recruitment and payroll to HR, accounts, project management, and sales & marketing, we have honed our expertise in numerous areas. Not to mention, we have also embraced new languages and technological advancements, expanded our horizons and stayed at the forefront of innovation. It's been a journey that’s managed to allow us to hold true to the goal of managing our own destiny and provide a comfortable work life balance. It’s not been stress free or without some huge challenges. The speed and scale of change within the industries we serve has been huge and continues at pace. The digital takeover continues to dominate and to squeeze print which refuses to die but instead continues to evolve into an ever more premium product. With ever tighter margins, increases in production costs and stretches within staffing we remain as relevant and necessary as ever. Papermule automates and streamlines as much as possible providing reporting and management tools to alert staff to the issues, allowing them to focus on the creative and human aspects of the publishing!

I wonder where we’ll be in another 20 years?